Nate’s Take: “Toy Story 4”

Toy Story 4 has no right being this amazing. I’ve been complaining since I first heard about the sequel back in 2014 that it wasn’t necessary, that the series should stop where it ended (perfectly) and there just wasn’t a compelling storyline left to justify a sequel. Yes, I feel stupid now. Toy Story 4 is a delight, and while I don’t think it has quite the emotional weight as the first three, it’s a worthy addition to the franchise and, perhaps (hopefully) the final, final installment. Without spoiling anything, there’s no closure left to be desired after this one.

The film opens with a flashback to 2010, when Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and all of our other favorites from the original film were still Andy’s toys. There is drama, as usual, because a toy has been left outside in a storm. A rescue is staged, and events unfold that explain why Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was not in Toy Story 3. The animation during this sequence is particularly stunning, but while the exposition is necessary to set up the Bo storyline, a lot of the first 10 minutes felt like too much fan service. I never get tired of Randy Newman singing “You’ve Got A Friend in Me,” but another previously-on montage, this one showing Andy growing up and then giving his toys to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), is just a bit exhausting. Anyway, two years have passed since the end of Toy Story 3. Woody is no longer getting much attention from Bonnie, but he does accompany her to kindergarten orientation to help ease her nerves a bit. She ends up channeling her anxiety into creating a new toy she names Forky (Tony Hale).

At this point I’m going to stop discussing plot details. This is one of the rare times when I was successfully able to avoid seeing any trailers for a film, and I would like to succeed in that more often. It’s going to be difficult considering how often I go to theaters, but I’m going to put the extra effort in. I liked how almost every frame of this experience was new to me.

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The writers make a big, and worthwhile, gamble with this sequel. Most of the characters from the first three films are present, but the majority of the screen time goes to Woody, Bo and a host of new characters, all of whom are brilliant. Though I avoided trailers going into this viewing, I was aware of the concept of Forky and I had concerns. This was another supporting character that had the potential to be incredibly annoying. I’m happy to say that’s not the case. Forky is a hilarious creation and the writers utilize him just enough. Also quite funny are two stuffed animals named Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele).  And yes, Keanu Reeves is in here too as an Evel Knievel rip-off. That character is fine. The internet is making more about the role than it is. He doesn’t detract from the film at all and delivers one of the bigger (if cheaper) laughs.

There is also a great villain. I’m not going to say much about Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), but she is the most complex villain in the series to date. She is able to bring back some of the horror elements that I love about the Sid storyline, but she’s also a multi-dimensional character. Toy Story 3 certainly had darker elements too, but they were more sad than scary. Toy Story 4 expands on some of the amusingly creepy elements from the first film. The other two sequels were so good I didn’t notice those elements were missing, but I’m glad the writers rediscovered that aspect of the series. I enjoyed it so much I kind of wanted more, and briefly considered seeing Child’s Play, which also opens this weekend and is an interesting bit of counter-programming by United Artists. I’ll probably just end up seeing Toy Story 4 a second time.

Check back later for Alex’s review of Toy Story 4.

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